You’re not the only one who isn’t sure exactly what the government’s Prevent strategy is all about. In some recent research only 50% of schools were aware of it.
The original Prevent strategy was launched in 2007 in order to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It is the preventative strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy CONTEST and the original materials included:
- Challenging violent extremism ideology and supporting mainstream voices
- Disrupting those who promote violent extremism and supporting the institutions where they are active
- Supporting individuals who are being targeted and recruited to the cause of violent extremism
- Increasing the resilience of communities to violent extremism
- Addressing the grievance that ideologues exploit
The ‘Channel’ part of the PREVENT strategy is the process through which individuals are identified who might be particularly vulnerable to becoming violently extreme. This is a particularly controversial strand of the overall strategy and involves:
- Identifying individuals at risk of being drawn into violent extremism
- Assessing the nature and extent of that risk
- Developing the most appropriate support for the individuals concerned
The strategy does have implications for schools. Schools are identified as one of the organisations that should be committed to working with other groups such as healthcare providers, faith groups, charities and the wider criminal justice system to counter extremism.
In June 2008 the government issued guidance around the importance of working with children and young people to build their resilience to violent extremism ‘Learning together to be safe: a toolkit to help schools contribute to the prevention of violent extremism’ and ‘Teaching approaches that help to build resilience to extremism among young people’, Bonnell et al. DfE May 2011) both provide ideas and examples for how schools might do this.
Hitting the headlines
Prevent has been re-launched by the coalition government in June 2011 with a slightly sharpened target. It is based upon the assumption that a terrorist attack is ‘highly likely’ and that the importance of intercepting this tendency and preventing extremism is even greater than ever. The new strategy comes with a clear focus on Al Qa’ida and will target non-violent extremism as well as violent extremism.
Part of the impetus for the production of this new drive is the concern that has arisen around the development of Free Schools. Will minority groups with extreme views apply? The DfE is at pains to reassure us that screening processes will make sure that such groups will not be able to use public money to open schools. Applicants now have to demonstrate that they support UK democratic values.
It is also intended that there will be a new set of standards for teachers which will include standards of ethics and behaviour. These will enable schools to take action against staff who demonstrate unacceptable views. Another area of concern is the influence which our-of-hours provision can have in terms of spreading extremist views. In summary, the government’s plans include to:
- Ensure that teachers know what to do if they see signs of radicalisation
- Encourage collaboration with policing and the development of products for teachers to use
- Ensure inspection emphasises shared values sufficiently
- Strengthen the Independent School Standards
- Develop a set of standards for teachers which clarify obligations around extremism
- Minimise the risk of people with unacceptable views setting up Free Schools
- Ensure that charity law is complied with by schools
- Reduce the risk of extremist views being promoted during out of school hours provision
- Help children’s services work with schools and other agencies
This is a very difficult area. At what point does the desire to control radicalism challenge the right to freedom of thought and speech? These are areas of policy that have the potential to stray into unacceptable control of the expression of political and religious view points.